No. 175: What’s Your Oath?

I initially rolled my eyes at this question during the latest KindredCast episode with Oath CEO Tim Armstrong, but Armstrong and KindredCast host Aryeh Bourkoff both had really interesting answers to the question.

KindredCast is a podcast hosted by the CEO of Liontree, a boutique investment bank that does some of the biggest deals in the media, technology, and telecommunications space. I’ve learned a ton about the industry listening to the podcast. Perhaps Aryeh will help CultureBanx with an acquisition one day. 😉

Anyway, Armstrong’s oath is Never Give Up, and Bourkoff’s is Jump the Rope. You can hear their explanations at 2:53 in the episode.

What would you say your oath is? For the past several months, I’ve repeated two things to myself almost daily: “Kwame, you are enough. Bet on yourself.”

The oath part of that statement, “Bet on yourself,” has helped me a lot. Over the years, I had developed a bad practice of discounting myself. I’ve often looked at job descriptions and seen the phrase, “strong academic performance,” and cowered at the thought of my 2.25 GPA at Davidson.

The reminder to bet on myself has kept me from forgetting the value I’ve added over the course of my career, drawn me back from toeing the line of self-sabotage, and going for what I know. It’s a daily battle, but one for which I am grateful. Without it, I wouldn’t bring the vantage point and skillset I’ve developed to the table.

What’s your oath? Where does it come from?

No. 130: Freedom Schools and Upward Bound Memories

I’ve watched this video of Ron Clark dancing with some of his students at least ten times over the past day.

It reminds me of Harambee at Freedom Schools. Starting off the day with a thorough turn-up is good for the soul.

I also think about the summers I worked at Upward Bound. Those were some amazing summers. The photo above is me learning how to pop, lock, and drop it.

Freedom Schools and Upward Bound were full of super long days, frustration, smiles, and progress. Good times.

Alright, back to the video, then back to work.

No. 129: Enthusiasm

image

I spotted this plaque at my parent’s home before I headed back to DC from one of the best New Year’s holidays I can remember.

I have been observing people around me who I admire for how they consistently show their gratitude. On New Year’s Day, I had a pretty good opportunity to work on that. I’ll probably share more about that years from now. All of these people have an enthusiasm about their ethos as well. It’s invigorating to be around.

image

I see the man in the above photo on the street near my office at least once a week. He jogs backwards with traffic and spins around while waving at cars and passersby. He is probably the most enthusiastic person I have come into contact with and is clearly enjoying life. I smile every time I see him. Shucks. I just may join him one day.

No. 106: Help Me With My Blind Spots

I couldn’t see oncoming traffic as I tried to make a left turn after picking up my daughter yesterday evening. A car slowed to a stop to give me space to pull out and the driver waved for me to come through. 

Typically, people wave at you to let you know that they are giving you space to come out. This guy was waving more aggressively and I could see that he was looking at oncoming traffic to let me know that the coast was clear. 

After I pulled out, I waved and he gave me a thumbs up. The feeling of gratitude I had in that moment got me thinking about the folks over the years who have pointed out my blind spots in how I treated people, approached my work, competed in athletics. 

Imagine if I didn’t have the guy there to help me where I couldn’t see. I would have had to wait for quite some time before traffic cleared enough for me to be able to see. Or, I could have chanced it, pulled out and risked a serious accident. 

The folks who point out our blind spots are invaluable. Making the effort to be open to their guidance is invaluable. Let’s all help and get help with blind spots. 

What else? What are some times when you have helped, or been helped with a blind spot?

No. 102: Mrs. Jones

The woman pictured above changed my life. Mrs. Jones was my 7th grade social studies teacher. My class was slightly rowdy, yet she always remained in control of the room. 

I started off underperforming in her class, more concerned with my pursuit of coolness. She pulled me aside one day and told me she knew I could do better. I’ll never forget the new feeling of wanting to prove her right. 

Thankfully, Mrs. Jones and her husband were home when I stopped by yesterday. It was great catching up and discussing their progress in launching a grocery co-op in the neighborhood I grew up in. The co-op has raised nearly $2million to begin operations. I’m excited about becoming a member and visiting the store whenever I’m in town. 

Since leaving middle school, I had tried to visit Mrs. Jones at least once a year, but hadn’t done so since college. To see her and her husband in such great health while leading the empowerment of my childhood community was a real treat. 

Thank you, Mrs. Jones. 

No. 97: 4 Lessons I Have Learned From 100 Blog Posts

Note: I had to delete a few posts that were corrupted somehow, hence this no longer being post number 100.

This is my 100th post on this blog. That isn’t a whole lot considering I have been writing on this site for nearly six years. I figured it still a good chance to think about lessons learned as I have tried to improve my writing over that time.

The Importance of Consistency

Maintaining this blog has taught me the importance of consistency. A number of my favorite bloggers write almost daily, and have done so for around ten years. Fred Wilson has been doing this since 2003 – pretty much every day. Seth Godin isn’t one of my favorites, but his consistency is just as real. He started in 2002, and for the past several years has been writing daily.

People have expectations. I expect to get something from Fred everyday. Not all of his posts will be interesting to me, but I expect to get something everyday. At some point, I would love to write daily. At this point, I would like people to expect to get something in their inbox from me every week.

Don’t Spend Too Much Time on Best Practices

That said, another thing I have learned is to not be too concerned with writing to a formula. I do try to keep paragraphs short (thanks for the tip, Trevor) and keep my logic intact, but I spend a lot less time trying to implement all the best practices for writing a good blog post.

At the same time, I have spent countless hours over the past several years reading a lot of material on those best practices, and I think some of them have become part of my process. For example, hopefully these lessons will be numbered when you read it.

Don’t Edit Too Much

Another lesson has been that too much editing can be stifling. I have a graveyard of blog posts that have not seen the light of day because I spent weeks thinking about them and making changes. And then, I forgot about them. This year, I have worked on writing what comes to mind in around an hour, inserting links where relevant, pressing publish, and making any edits to typos if someone points one out.

My favorite teacher in high school, Mr. Barnhardt, encouraged his English students to draft papers and let them sit a bit before editing them. I do make sure to do that with articles that are to be published to other sites, but this is a nice platform to just exercise my mind. My sophomore year in college, I scratched every jump in the indoor track season because I edited my technique too much. The editing came from fear of not jumping well. I shed that fear and the editing the next year and set the school record.

I harbored fear of looking incompetent for much of the time I have spent writing these posts, resulting in a lot of editing early on, and a lot of long gaps in writing. I have shed some of that, and it feels good to just write.

Read a Lot

The helpfulness of reading a lot is another lesson. Over the years, I have gained a better understanding of what I would like my voice to be the more I read – slightly sarcastic at times and conversational, but not talkative. I think that represents my voice in real life.

Before starting this post, I took a look at my first post. I mention developing my own running form by studying others. The biggest thing about my running form now is not really what it looks like, it is my awareness of how my body is working. I learned that by studying other runners. In a somewhat similar fashion, reading what others write has helped sharpen my awareness of my own writing and thinking.

I think this is a good stopping point. Four lessons from 100 blog posts: the importance of consistency, not spending too much time writing to a formula, not editing too much, and reading what others write.

No. 78: Shoutouts 

There should be an app that tracks when you’re bragging about your friends and sends them updates when you do. 

One of my good friends and daughter’s godmother, Livi, is pursuing her PhD at the University College London and got upgraded from a Master’s candidate to a PhD candidate a few days ago after writing a chapter of her thesis and giving a lecture to the faculty. I’m extremely proud of her. In college, she would talk about pursuing one and to see her reach a major milestone in that goal is super inspiring. 

My little brother, Kwadwo, just released a new short film called Yours Only. It’s a dope mix of a dystopian future and folks who take a moment to worship in the midst of a tough situation. 

The youngest Som-Pimpong sibling, Delali, just graduated from middle school and got an award for how she embodied the ethos of her school. I’m super proud of the beautiful young woman she is. I pity the fool who steps to her incorrectly. I’ve been picking up serious weight in the gym. 

This list could go on. It’s so awesome watching friends and family take big steps in their lives. 

No. 67: Pay Attention to the Air Through Which You Walk

Chinedu Echeruo gave a talk at Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series on the value that creativity unleashes into the world. In it, he shared a parable David Foster told in a speech to Kenyon College’s 2005 graduating class.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

I found this to be a really compelling commentary on the power of how one thinks. We see that power all around us. Political parties. Marriage. Entrepreneurship.

While thinking on this parable further, I remembered an interview angel investor Jason Calacanis did with Peter Thiel, the contrarian billionaire co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook. He made a point about how one should pay attention to things that don’t work as well as one would like. What comes to mind now is the difficulty I have getting my daughter in and out of her car seat. His argument was that opportunities for a solution lie in those instances of discomfort.

For the past few months, I have tried to document ideas that come to mind during the course of a day. After hearing Mr. Thiel’s argument, I have tried to look a little closer at the everyday things with which I engage on a normal basis. My daughter’s car seat. The rectangular shape of my laptop and iPhone. To apply the language of Mr. Foster’s parable, I am trying to shift my thinking to be aware of the water in which I am swimming, rather the air through which I am walking.

For example, I remember that I heard Mr. Thiel make this comment about paying attention to the discomforts around you while I was sitting at a red light at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and K Street. I can remember this now, but with all the head shots I delivered playing football, I probably won’t remember this experience 50 years from now.

What if I could take a snapshot of that moment in time – the image of the intersection, the two-minute portion of the conversation, the day and time, how the conversation made me feel? Imagine being able to recall that experience 50 years from now as a form of treatment for my dementia.

You’ve seen the joy on the man’s face as he listens to jazz music he’d enjoyed decades prior. Imagine creating a playlist of sorts for your older self to enjoy pivotal moments of your life.

This may or may not be a good idea (I kind of like it and will mention it to my mom who works on dementia issues). That aside, the thought exercise of paying attention to something as routine as a memory unlocks a creativity that I look forward to experiencing more.

No. 58: Do You Remember the T-Mobile Sidekick?

Do you remember the T-Mobile Sidekick? Did you ever ask how it was made? I sure did not. Here’s a cool profile on the phone, its creator – Andy Rubin, and its evolution into Android. Incredible stuff.

I remember some of my classmates at Woodberry having the phone. My only thought on it was that I could not afford it, let alone ask questions about how it was made. Who made it? What is the software like on the phone? What does it take to make that kind of software? Could I make something like that? Pretty simple, but mind-shifting questions, right?

Growing up, I loved taking apart our home PC and figuring out how to navigate its applications. In response to questions about what I wanted to do in life, I always said computer engineer. At some point, I lost interest thinking that taking apart and putting computers together was as much as I could do in that field. Perhaps, had I not nearly paralyzed myself the first day I ever hit somebody playing football in 7th grade, I would have had the awareness to ask one or two of the above questions (probably not). By this time, I placed a lot of my identity in being an athlete and spent a good bit of my time trying to get better there.

Over the past few years, I have started asking more of the above questions, and it is fascinating to dig below the surface on the technology we use on a daily basis. I really believe that encouraging these sort of questions in the African-American community is one of the gamechangers for the wealth of the African-American community. Since Black in America aired four years ago, I have discovered more and more black folks who are absolutely killing the technology game – Tristan Walker, John Thompson, Erin Teague, Eghosa Omoigui, Paul Judge, and Chinedu Echeruo, to name a few.

There’s no limit on how many more black tech leaders there could be. There are certainly a lot of questions that could use some solving:

  • How do we insert more African history into our daily media consumption?
  • How do we increase the efficiency of purchasing Air Jordan’s on release day, and use that event as a teaching moment for investing? How do we create real-time playback analysis of those butt whippings from grandma?
  • How do we nurture the identification of business opportunities between what a kid is learning in school and the real world experiences of his dad who is working two jobs to provide for the family?
  • The list could go on…

I’m excited about encouraging myself, Anna Olivia, my siblings, and kids who grow up on streets like the one I grew up on to ask and take the next step of building solutions to address them.

No. 55: World Economic Forum Panel on Africa’s Growth Agenda

The World Economic Forum is taking place this week. At 10:15am today, January 21, a panel will discuss Africa’s Growth Agenda. A link to the panel is below.

Africa’s Growth Agenda